Biomedical Sciences program experiences rapid growth
Published on Thursday, October 19, 2017
By: Karen Bascom
Whether you want to be a doctor, dentist or scientist, whether you’re straight out of college or a decade removed from the classroom, there’s a degree program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center that can help you achieve your goals.
The Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences has been the first step for hundreds of health science professionals in Mississippi.
“It’s a forum for students to prove themselves and improve their skills,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, associate dean of student affairs for the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences and program director.
The one-year program includes lectures and coursework that prepare students for the pre-clinical years of training, including physiology, biochemistry, microbiology and immunology, anatomy, pharmacology, and histology and cell biology. Since starting with five students in 2010, biomedical sciences has become one of most popular degree programs on campus. This year’s class has a record-number 65 students, and Ryan says they plan to keep growing.
Part of the reason the program can enroll more students is the new School of Medicine building on the UMMC campus. Previously, first- and second-year medical students had class in the lecture halls of the original medical school building.
“Our space was limited to the Classroom Wing building,” Ryan said, where the largest rooms have only half the capacity of these lecture halls.
When the medical students moved into the new building in August, this opened classroom and laboratory space. Now, the biomedical sciences program hopes to gradually raise its enrollment to more than 100 students over the next several years.
In Mississippi and nationwide, programs that transition students from undergraduate education to health sciences graduate programs are gaining popularity. There are 234 master’s degree and post-baccalaureate programs in biomedical sciences in the United States, an 80 percent increase over the last five years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“This is becoming a more common approach for students,” Ryan said. “It’s a great way for students to improve and enhance their chances for admission.”
“The program really has two benefits,” said Dr. Stephen Manuel, associate dean for admissions in the School of Medicine. “It can help students demonstrate that they can succeed in doing graduate level science coursework, and it also better prepares students to be more successful during medical school.
“There is no question that students who do well in the program are well prepared for the rigors of medical school,” Manuel said.
Students enroll for a variety of reasons: to facilitate a career change, to strengthen previously denied applications, to test the waters before committing to several years of graduate education.
The biomedical sciences program accepts students from across the country, but most come from in-state. This is great news for Mississippi because health sciences professionals who train here are more likely to stay and care for Mississippi’s patients.
Hunter Aultman, a student in this year’s class, is exploring career opportunities in primary care, pediatrics and surgery.
“I’ve has always wanted to be a doctor, but seeing the importance of the patient-provider relationship solidified my interest,” he said.
Originally from McComb, Aultman graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with degrees in biochemistry and molecular biology in May. When his first application to the School of Medicine was denied, admissions counselors encouraged him to complete the Master’s degree and reapply.
“This program is preparing us for the coursework we will have as medical and dental students,” Aultman said. “We’re getting a deeper understanding of the material before matriculating.”
Aultman said there’s a strong sense of camaraderie among his classmates.
“We all want to become health care professionals,” he said.
Just as the degree program is helping students refine their own knowledge and skills, UMMC has refined the biomedical sciences program.
“We are continuing to improve our program over time,” Ryan said, including the addition pharmacology and a revised physiology curriculum. “We’ve also added prosection [observed dissections] to our anatomy course, which prepares medical and dental students for the anatomy courses they will take later on.”
Dr. Joey Granger, dean of the SGSHS, said the Master of Science in biomedical sciences is “designed to help trainees reach their educational goals.”
“It’s a great resource, whether they want to be medical, dental or graduate students,” he said.